I confess that no brilliant idea struck me for today’s post, so I’m offering a kind of update instead, an update which I hope some will find interesting as a window on both creative and business process. Two weeks ago I posted on writing quickly, using as an instance a WIP on which I was about to start work. I had lofty goals, and though I haven’t attained them all, I’m making progress. Today’s post is about the next step.
As I said last time in response to comments, I’m leaning a little more to the pantser side on this one, though I am still mapping the larger story as an outline, and the difference between this and my usual strategy is more about speed than methodology. I’m making decisions quickly and moving on. I’m also blending the plotting and writing process to an extent: I have the basic shape of the thing planned out, but that plan is really a rough sketch, and I’m allowing myself a lot of freedom to add and adjust as I write.
Two weeks ago I declared the intent to get this puppy cranked out fast, but life—as it often seems to—intervened, this time in the form of end of semester meetings and grading. All told, I got no more than a couple of thousand words done by the end of that first week, half of that was the first few pages of the book, the other half plot notes.
I’ve now finished week two, and have had more time to write, so that I’ve wound up with 12,500 words, all but the last thousand of which are narrative draft rather than outline. I’m working chronologically in a single document, moving through the story and then deleting the relevant guide to what I just completed from the outline which follows. What this means is that I have a “real time” story which then transitions into an outline with the tag “Here’s what happens next.” I’m doing this for two reasons. One, it helps me to move through the story and keep a clear sense of the overall structure and what has to happen next. That way, when I come back to it, I dive in where I left off and have a short paragraph telling me what I have to write now. The second reason is that I’m now thinking of this as a submission strategy.
My situation, some of you will recall is this, is this: My first children’s book comes out in October and is done. The second in that series is done in first draft form and turned in so far ahead of schedule that my publisher is (understandably) taking a while over getting me notes: they weren’t expecting the book till July. I can’t start work on book 3 without talking through book 2 and probably won’t be able to start till the publisher has sale numbers for book 1 (which will influence whether this is a 3 book series or more).
This is all important because it means that I have a professional relationship with a publisher, but one which is still in its infancy. I would love to solidify that relationship with a new book (or series) and think that I’m in a strong enough position to pitch the book (or series) as a partial, rather than waiting till I complete the whole book. In short, I’m giving my current press first refusal at the drawing-board stage, on the understanding that if they don’t like it and I opt to write it anyway, then I can offer it to other houses. I wouldn[‘t normally do this but, as I said last time, this is a fairly high concept project, where a lot of what will make it attractive or repulsive to readers and publishers alike is built into the hook and will be loud and clear in the summary/partial. It is, I think, the kind of story you could summarize effectively in a sentence and raise a few eyebrows.
Whether those raised eyebrows are of the “Interesting: tell me more” variety, or the “You have got to be joking,” variety remains to be seen, and that’s kind of what I want to find out. So the plan I’ve worked out with my agent is simply this. I’ll clean up what I have, flesh it out a little, expand upon the “here’s what happens next” outline, and shoot to have my agent submit it to my current publisher (and no one else) next week. I figure the whole package will be about 15,000 words, but since I’m shooting for this to be a (for me) short book of the Middle Grades variety, possibly pushing into YA, I think that 15K will represent about a quarter of the finished length: more than enough to give my current publisher a taste so they can see if it’s something they’d like to read more of.
One of the issues I’ve already run into is that my plot sketch isn’t rich enough. As a result I’m marching through the story too quickly, and my planned 50-60,000 word story might not get beyond 25,000: which is no use, even in today’s market of ever shrinking books. I need, it seems, a subplot: a cool seeming-digression which I can make integral by weaving key elements into the resolution of the main narrative. I’ve also stumbled on a good plot element simply in the writing of a character who has already pushed the story in an unexpected (but not problematic) direction.
Moving from concept, to execution, editing and submission in a few weeks may be nuts, and there is a very real chance that the whole thing will stall if my publisher isn’t interested, but if I have to abandon it, I’ve lost very little in terms of time. (In truth, I doubt that I will abandon it anyway. I’ll plug away till it’s done, when my submission options will increase significantly. I still may not sell the book, but I will at least be able to get it in front of editors in various houses.) And if my current publisher bites—or even just nibbles—then I can continue this furious writing pace in the hope of having the thing under contract and drafted by the end of the summer. That would be nice, no?